Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"What the Fuck You Gonna Do Except Hustle? Besides Pimpin'?"

Man, Super Fly has got to be the baddest movie I’ve seen in a minute. Can you dig it? Excuse me while I snap out of my 1970s pimp mode.

In my earlier review of City of God I used the word “refreshing” to describe stylization used by the director and cinematographer to break new ground in filmmaking. While the direction by Gordon Parks Jr. in Super Fly doesn’t come close to Fernando Meirelles, the cultural awareness, ultra-cool soundtrack, wardrobe (we’ve got pimp clothes, people), and—forgive me for saying—swagger gave me the same refreshing feeling despite the fact that Super Fly has been parodied and sampled since it entered theaters nearly 40 years ago.

Released in 1972, Super Fly is the story of a Harlem drug-dealer/pimp ironically named Priest (Ron O’Neal) who’s had enough of the drug game, and wishes to get out before "the game" kills him.

Orchestrating one last big score before retirement, our anti-hero learns that leaving his lifestyle could be a deadly transition as his new and old partners don’t wish for him to leave the business alive.

I know, the story seems a little simple, but it’s everything else that goes on that makes it so great. Check out this clip to get a sense of what I’m talking about:

Now tell me that’s not cool. Priest riding through Harlem in his Cadillac Eldorado (did anyone see the peace symbols in the headlights?), and then strolling through a lounge as if he owns it. He even asked someone if they’d “squared up” on him, because he hadn’t seen them in a while. Obviously, Priest meant that anywhere outside of his realm was not the place to be. Curtis Mayfield’s song “Pusher Man,” which plays during the scene, is equally as cool.

Ultimately, Priest’s coolness, and those who attempt to challenge it, is what the movie's about. Those trying to take Priest's mojo include junkies who try to jack him for his money/drugs, militant “brothers” demanding that Priest share his wealth with the Black movement, and, every blaxploitation hero’s nemesis, “The Man.”

What intrigued me so much outside of the cool factor of Super Fly was its depiction of Harlem in 1972. The excessive drug use, outlandish attire, and cultural vernacular were all geared toward audiences living in the same setting. Many inner city African Americans were tired of seeing the clean cut Sidney Poitier in duck-out-of-water stories where he was always the only black person.

Urban cultures wanted heroes who lived in and dealt with situations like their own, which for some, unfortunately, involved drugs, poor quality of living, and crime. Parks Jr. clearly displays the idea of the amoral American dream by strategically placing the American flag in key scenes. One scene includes dealers who cut cocaine on a plate with an American flag printed on it. This sign of rebellion reminded me of Peter Fonda's chopper in Easy Rider, which also had an American flag printed on it.

Technically, Super Fly was marginal at best; however, I would’ve given it an Oscar for best direction after watching Blacula. Director Gordon Parks Jr. was more creative in his shot selection, incorporating more point of view shots from Priest’s perspective, which enabled audiences to put themselves right in his shoes. Also, it is a director’s job to create the mise en scene, or visual style (costumes, props, lighting, etc.) of any film, and Parks Jr. certainly excelled at filming Harlem in 1972.

Like most blaxploitation movies, there are some visible shot goofs. Some of the more noticeable mistakes included a cord flashing in front of the camera in the film’s opening chase sequence, as well as a clear silhouette of a camera in other scenes. Still, these goofs did little to distract me from the film’s overall coolness.

Ron O’Neal went on to direct the sequel Super Fly T.N.T, which was panned by most critics. After blaxploitation cinema began to cool down, O’Neal struggled to find work in television and film. Some of his later work included a supporting role on A Different World in the late 1980s and early 90s, and a return to the blaxploitation genre in 1996’s Original Gangstas, which also starred fellow blaxploitation alumni Pam Grier and Jim Brown.

With the return to blaxploitation cinema with Michael Jai White’s Black Dynamite, perhaps many of the old school stars will resurrect their careers while also helping new talent. Blaxploitation films may have been cheaply made, but they employed many people who wouldn't have found work otherwise. In these times, perhaps a resurrection of blaxploitation cinema is just what the economy needs.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Check back later for reviews of The Road, Up in The Air, Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

“I curse you with my name. You shall be—Blacula!”

Upon the 2009 release of Black Dynamite, a modern day blaxploitation movie set in the 1970s, my curiosity in blaxploitation films began to grow. Written by and starring Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight, Why Did I Get Married), Black Dynamite received rave reviews and won the best film award at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

There was a certain feeling of nostalgia I had when watching the trailer for Black Dynamite. I remembered conversations my mother had with her friends about classic blaxploitation films like Shaft, Foxy Brown, and Superfly—my mom always made me leave the room whenever she watched Superfly. Since I wasn’t allowed to watch them I was forced to watch whatever my father had on, which usually consisted of military or gangster movies (Dirty Dozen, The Great Santini, The Godfather, etc.). The closest I came to watching a blaxploitation movie was back in the 80’s when I first saw the blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, which is still a favorite of mine. Still, that never sparked my interest to watch any of the films it spoofed.

Before watching Black Dynamite, I’ve decided to watch a few classic blaxploitation movies from the 1970s to have a better understanding of the genre. I swear there were hundreds of films on Netflix to choose from. Still fresh off of reviewing horror films, I chose to watch and review Blacula.

Let me start by saying that I’ve never seen such a combination of an orthodox yet original concept, a moronic yet compelling story, poor filmmaking, and all around cheesiness.

Blacula begins like any other classic horror movie—on a dark and stormy night in Transylvania of all places. Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall - played the King of Cartoons on PeeWee's Playhouse) and his wife Luva are meeting with Count Dracula to discuss the ceasing of slave trading. I had no idea Dracula was an advocate for slavery. It isn’t long before Dracula reveals his true self and releases his fellow ghouls upon Mamuwalde and his wife. After being bitten and cursed to be Dracula’s darker self, the oh-so-creatively titled Blacula, Mamuwalde is subdued to a coffin for nearly two hundred years before he awakens in 1970s Los Angeles (posing as New York City) and begins his pursuit of his reincarnated lost love—all while wreaking havoc on random bystanders.

Let’s not talk about Blacula’s story, which isn’t such a bad concept. What kept grabbing my attention throughout the movie's 90 minute length (felt like hours) was money. The downfall of Blacula, and I imagine this was the case for most films in the genre, was a lack of money for production. Terrible actors, inexperienced directors/editors, and poor sound quality all stemmed from a lack of money. The movie could have been decent enough but the lack of production quality turned it into the ultimate cheese-fest. Don’t take my word for it. Watch the first ten minutes:

Now, here’s a list of all the elements that made this an unintentional comedy:
  • Poor sound quality – not enough money for voiceovers.
  • Choppy editing – note the fight sequence between Mamuwalde and Dracula’s goons. Not only did some of the shots use first person POV, but there was also no rhythm to the editing. I don’t mind first person shots in fighting, but audiences should be able to project themselves into a fight sequence if it’s shot well, rather than saying, “Oh, that shot used first person POV.”

  • Costumes and makeup – I've seen better costumes on Halloween in DC. What was up with the vampires’ blue and purple faces?

  • Bad lighting – Were we supposed to see the shadow of the camera just as Dracula bit Mamuwalde? And who chose that shot anyway? The first person POV was still in the back of my mind after watching Mamuwalde fight, so the tracking shot made it seem like one of Dracula’s ghouls or goons was running straight towards Mamuwalde.
  • Goofs – Ok, Mamuwalde and his wife left their country in Africa to visit Dracula in Transylvania. Why the hell are they speaking English? I know it’s an American movie, but come on.

  • Score – Doesn’t the eerie music sound exactly the same as Uma Thurman’s theme music just before she fought someone in Kill Bill? It somehow seems more annoying than scary in Blacula.
This is only the first ten minutes, people. What’s funny is the clip above is the best part of the movie. Surpisingly, Blacula’s quest for his lost love and his feasting upon helpless victims is—boring. Not to mention the lack of transitions between scenes.

A good use of transitions lets the audience know the mood of a particular scene, or may suggest the passage of time. Time was never a factor or concern for me while watching, even though the script called for Blacula to be concerned about the sun coming up. Each night seemed to last forever. And why were the regular people up so late each night anyway?

The reason I didn’t discuss the story of Blacula was because it deserves its own review. I really was intrigued by the many interpretations (love, loss, slavery, etc.) one could take from the story. I didn’t want my deriding of the technical aspects of the film to take away from it.
I still would recommend Blacula to anyone who wishes to increase their general knowledge of blaxploitation cinema; however, anyone looking for a random selection on Netflix should be sure to steer clear.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Up next - Super Fly

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“It's ok, we're Americans. We're here to help you!”

Psychic army-trained Jedi warriors, a hungry reporter looking for the story of a lifetime, and the war in Iraq—I can see how producers ate up the concept of The Men Who Stare at Goats in a meeting with writers Peter Straughan and Jon Ronson. However, the movie fell tragically short of the high expectations I had entering the theater.

Produced by George Clooney with first-time director Grant Heslov, who cowrote Clooney’s Academy Award nominated Good Night, and Good Luck, the story is an adaptation of British journalist Jon Ronson’s 2005 non-fiction book of the same title, which discussed the U.S. Army’s research into psychological and paranormal experimentation stretching back to the 1950s.

Set in 2003, the movie plays like a classic coming-of-age story. A bored, down and out reporter searches for success to get back the wife he lost. Blah, blah, blah. I’ve seen this type of movie hundreds of times. Stray goats and George Clooney won’t change the fact that the plot has been used so much that it’s now a cliché. In the right hands it could’ve been great, but the combination of an overused premise, disposable plot elements used for the sake of fluff, and gratuitous use of monologues and the song “More Than a Feeling” by Boston all contributed to this downer of a movie.

The film opens with an extreme close up of Brigadier General Dean Hopgood (Stephen Lang) in the 1980s as he stares intensely at his office wall. He then tells his assistant he’s leaving the office before trying to run through the wall as if he were Patrick Swayze in Ghost. After banging his head and falling flat on his back, the general simply says “damn.” This is the comedic range viewers can expect to see throughout the movie.

Flash forward to 2003. Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is eager to impress his wife who abruptly left him for his one-armed editor-in-chief. After fighting and succumbing to his boss’s one-armed headlock, Wilton decides to go to Iraq to write a terrific story on the war and win his wife back. Once there he finds he is unable to enter Iraq and watches as he is once again upstaged by other reporters who are able to move back and forth through Iraq easily. Wilton eventually meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who Wilton previously heard of while covering a story on an Army vet who claimed to be able to kill animals by only staring at them. After talking, Cassady eventually agrees to let Wilton accompany him on a mission, and the two embark on a road trip through Iraq. Wilton hopes to find something newsy to write, while Cassady initially stays mum on his mission.

The movie took a downward spin for me after the two new road buddies traveled across Iraq. Wilton launched into a narration of Cassady’s back story, which highlights Cassady’s training from his mentor and army leader, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) who developed his own psychic military unit after spending most of the 1970s looking for New Age movements to incorporate into military practices. What he developed were American army unit training psychic spies, or Jedi Warriors, that practiced harnessing super powers with hopes of promoting peace. Does anyone else think it's weird that Ewan McGregor, a.k.a Obi-Wan Kenobi, starred in a movie that refers to super soldiers as "Jedi Warriors"? My sister told me there were references made to two other movies starring McGregor: Moulin Rouge! and Trainspotting. Go figure.

Back to the psychic spies--ironically, this isn’t that far fetched from actual CIA projects. One such project, spearheaded by former CIA Director Stansfield Turner during the Carter administration, actually used psychic training exercises for spies who were thought to have extra-sensory perception. Check out this video on remote viewing:

Anyway, the film spends so much time in the backstory of the Jedi Warriors that the antagonist had to be presented there. Enter Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper, the sadistic Jedi, or Sythe lord to the Star Wars geeks, who uses his Jedi powers for evil rather than good. It is he who enlisted the use of goats to see if the troops could kill them using psychic powers. Hooper also tortured fellow psychics in hopes of expanding his own psychic power. Cassady eventually left the army after feeling guilty for successfully using his power to kill a goat.

Flash forward back to 2003, Cassady informs Wilton that he remote viewed his former mentor, Django, who had been dishonorably discharged thanks to Hooper’s scheming. Django told Cassady his mission was to come to a base in the middle of Iraq. After escaping kidnappers looking to sell them to terrorists and evading private contractors causing more harm than good, Cassady and Wilton finally locate Django who now works for Hooper in a modern psychic-training base in Iraq called PSIC, or “sick,” according to Wilton. Until reaching the base, none of Cassady’s supposed powers had ever been witnessed by Wilton, but the actual existence of the base implies that Cassady was telling the truth.

I knew the running time of the film, so I was aware that the characters reaching the base had to be the climax. In actuality, this seemed to be where the film became interesting. Unfortunately, the writers don’t take the time to explore Hooper’s modern psychic techniques, because they’re too busy trying to wrap up the film. There’s a deadpan, anticlimactic finale, which left me wondering if there was any purpose to the mess I’d just watched. Wilton did get his story, but news outlets chose to focus on the fact that Barney music was used to torture POWs at the PSIC base, much like the use of music as a form of torture for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay during the Bush administration.

I know what Clooney and Heslov were trying to accomplish with Ronson’s adaptation, which was supposed to poke fun at conservatism and its effects on the U.S. military. Unfortunately, the script glosses over too many facts to make any of the subtle points within the plot stick, and it relies too heavily on opening shots of Bush and slight jabs at former President Ronald Reagan to point out fallacies within the conservative party. The script does emphasize that it was a conservative government that was in place for much of the psychic research done in the past, and it was the Bush administration that funded the new age psychic research lead by Spacey’s character. However, the screwball comedy and underdeveloped script only frustrated and teased me as I waited for more depth and less lighthearted carousing. I guess that’s what I should have expected from a film emphasizing goats.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Up next - The Blaxploitation classic, Blacula

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Please, I need help"

(Warning: plot spoilers)

“Well shit, man. I guess that’s why they call it a ‘way-homer’…because you only get it on the way home.” I always think of this Coen brothers’ line from their second directorial effort, Raising Arizona, whenever I’ve just watched another one of their movies for the first time. I’ve continued this trend after watching their latest film, A Serious Man, starring Michael Stuhlberg (Body of Lies) as Larry Gopnik, a down-on-his-luck assistant physics professor who desperately seeks answers to life's questions as his world begins to crumble.

The story, set in a 1960’s suburban Minneapolis Jewish community, follows Gopnik as he faces unethical students, a possible denial of tenure, a surprising divorce, a bigoted neighbor, and an eccentric live-in brother—all as he’s tried to live the life of a decent man and an upstanding husband, father and brother. Since it’s a movie, the audience, along with Gopnik assumes that solutions will be found for his mounting problems. To me the movie is a more serious version of Burn After Reading, consisting of a series of wacky subplots which do ultimately propel the main arc of the plot (Gopnik’s troubles).

I’m going to deviate from my normal routine of writing for this particular post. I felt a sense of enlightenment while writing my initial review before I decided to scrap it. I knew that I wasn’t confident in my interpretation, but I still tried to present myself as if I knew what I was talking about. I’ll now describe to readers my thought process when writing a review for a movie that takes me longer to interpret.

When exiting the theater after watching A Serious Man, I wondered what the Coen brothers wanted me to grasp from their film. I remember hearing some teenager chide his friend for not understanding the plot. “Dude, how could you not get it? I understood everything that was going on. It was all connected,” he said. I remember sneering at the kid for a second because I sure as hell didn’t get it. In my cynicism I assumed that he was only pretending to understand the movie, because how could anyone know more than the Movie Guy? After coming back down to Earth and getting into the driver seat of my car, I thought of key quotes and scenes I wrote in my notepad: “receive with simplicity,” mounting troubles, graphic dreams representing closure. I realized that the main character, Gopnik, accomplished nothing and solved none of his problems during the movie, but I also realized that there were a number of other scenes that went right over my head.

After I started writing my review I knew I wasn’t completely confident in my interpretation. Obviously, the Coen brothers wanted audiences to understand that bad things happen sometimes, and there won’t always be an answer or remedy available. What else could I say? Sure, I could summarize some other plot points or scenes that I liked, but I felt I’d be masking the fact that I didn't fully understand how audiences should interpret it. I decided to research the film and read some other reviews to see what I may have missed. I usually wait to do such research after I’ve written my review because I don’t want to be influenced in any way before I express my view.

After researching, I found that all of the allusions the Coen brothers present within their movie are biblical. According to the Internet Movie Database, “Larry is a Job like figure – a good man to whom many bad things happen with no explanation…his son Danny’s looking at the tornado coming recalls God speaking to Job from out of the whirlwind that He will not explain why these bad things have happened to him.” While I’ve read all of the New Testament, I’m only on Numbers in the Old Testament, so that’s why I was unable to make the connection. Most of the reviews I read made the connection.

One quick note for those who may not be aware. There are no original ideas in screenplays—they’re all combinations of cribbed ideas/stories/news from around the world. Most can be traced back to the Bible (i.e. Donnie Darko, The Matrix, etc.)

Anyway, for me, even though I enjoyed A Serious Man, I think it'll grow on me even more after I watch it again. I’m looking forward to catching all the little things I missed my first time watching it.

My point to all of this is that I’ve come to appreciate movie critics more since I’ve delved into the review process myself. They constantly make sound, insightful interpretations after watching a movie only once. It usually takes me a couple of viewings to catch key points I may have missed.

I could take more time to elaborate on how each character is more of a caricature, or discuss the over-the-top performances by some of the actors (shout out to George Clooney’s best friend, Richard Kind, who plays Gopnik’s socially awkward brother), but I really don’t feel like it. The movie is worth seeing, so go check it out. Even though there aren't as many laugh-out-loud moments as other Coen brothers films, I still rank it near the top of their body of work.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Up next -
The Men Who Stare At Goats

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And the Winner is...

Yesterday I read a story in the Hollywood Reporter about what type of mood will be the trend at the Oscars this year. Such moods from prior years include the 2008 Oscar’s applauding of ominous movies like No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton, and 2009’s return to Hollywood-happy-endings with Slumdog Millionaire’s best picture win. This year’s possible trend could be even more difficult to determine since the usual number of 5 films nominated for best picture has doubled to 10. “With the widened field, there's a wider split between the feel-good contenders and the downbeat ones, between movies that depict the world as it is and those that show the world as we wish it to be,” said Steven Zeitchik of the Hollywood Reporter.

Oscar nominations won’t be released until February 2010, but rumors of possible entries include: The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break); Precious, the film adaptation of Sapphire’s Push, directed by Lee Daniels (co-produced Monster’s Ball) and introducing Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe as Sapphire; the Coen brother’s A Serious Man; and Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, starring George Clooney. Since the Academy has recently attempted to appeal to a larger audience, expect to see films like Inglorious Basterds, The Hangover and Star Trek in some type of category.

Don’t expect to see movies like Amelia, starring Hilary Swank as Amelia Earheart, and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies in contention for any major award. Mann’s direction of the John Dillinger biopic starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale generated only a 59 percent tomato-meter rating on “Mann excels at staging the chaotic bank jobs and bloody shootouts that were just a day at the office for Dillinger, but even at 140 minutes the movie is so dense with incident that there isn’t much room for cultural comment or character development,” said J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader. Amelia, on the other hand, earned an 11 percent tomato meter rating. To give it some scale, Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave earned a 27 percent rating.

One entry I'm not so sure will be in contention for an Oscar is Jane Campion’s Bright Star, reviewed by Cat Pham, which has generated a lot of buzz. The film was beautifully shot, but I’d be very surprised if it were to receive a nomination for any major award outside of best actress; Abbie Cornish killed her part as John Keats love interest, Fanny Brawne. The movie seemed a bit robotic outside of Cornish, especially Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of John Keats. Regarding the chemistry between Cornish and Whishaw, Pham said, "What I wanted from these 'star-crossed lovers' was to see that they cared for one another with equal amounts of intensity. Keat’s feelings for Fanny, as portrayed in this film, [are] pale in comparison to the young woman’s ardent and unwavering love." Tom Long of the Detroit News had a similar review - "for a film about love, Bright Star is curiously cold, more pretty than emotional."

Also questionable is Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, starring Matt Damon as rugby player Francois Pienaar and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela during the 1995 Rugy World Cup. Check out the trailer:

I’m including this now in the best picture category; however, it's only questionable because it hasn't come out yet. Eastwood’s films can’t miss. What movie of his in the past 10 years hasn’t been nominated for some type of Academy Award, if not for best picture? Check his resume: Gran Torino, Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, etc. There’s another 3 or 4 I intentionally left off that could’ve been included on this list. Unfortunately, like so many other pictures, some of Eastwood’s work was beaten by other, arguably lesser films.

I hope the Academy gets it right this year. I was disappointed that Slumdog Millionaire won so many awards last year. I’m putting it in my too-much-hype category along with Crash and Chicago. Other factors have gone into films winning at the Oscars, which include producers lobbying for their films by distributing them, along with gifts, to as many judges as possible. I’d like to think that judges have kept an unbiased perspective, but with some of the wins I’ve seen over the years I wonder just how much Academy judges are influenced.

Check back for my review of the Coen brother's A Serious Man.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Horror Genre: Churn'em & Burn'em

Is it me or does it seem like horror films are dominating movie theaters lately? Really I think they’ve been dominating for the past 80 years, but they never seem to stay in theaters long enough for people to see them. I’d say there are more bad horror flicks than good, and usually the good ones churn out so many bad sequels that it diminishes the original work. And no, I’m not just talking about the recent onslaught of gore porn that’s been “torturing” us every Halloween. That’d require an entirely different essay. Really though, why have there been 12 Friday the 13th movies (including Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason) and soon-to-be 9 A Nightmare on Elm Street’s? Big up to new Freddy Krueger Jackie Earle Haley . The guy’s been in everything since costarring in Little Children back in 2006, which was his first after a 13 year hiatus from acting. Anyone remember Kelly Leak from The Bad News Bears?

Anyway, my point is that the recent downturn in the economy has drastically affected Hollywood to the point that producers have shut down numerous projects that would have been green-lit 10 years ago based off of a big star and intriguing script. Producers are now opting to make the “fly-by-nightclubs” of the movie world—the horror film.

It’s funny how history repeats itself. During the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930-1950), Universal found itself struggling to make money as a result of the Great Depression. With nothing to lose, it took a chance by filming and releasing Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1931. After the success of the film, Universal produced Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, and other horror classics. “Universal was attracted to the horror because of the low costs of production. Screenplays were cheap to develop…film stars…never commanded the salaries of the luminaries of comedy or the western,” and “the horror genre could make efficient use…of existing studio sets and thus save thousands of dollars in basic production costs (Weaver, Tamborini, 55 & 56). It’s been nearly 80 years since Universal introduced audiences to the horror genre, but the same basic ideas are being applied to the genre today. Check out James B. Weaver, III, and Ron Tamborini’s Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions for more information on the horror genre.

Paranormal Activity, featuring a first time director and no name stars, has already earned over $40 million dollars domestically after being produced for the ridiculously low $11 thousand. Hollywood producers employ the same methods not out of necessity for lack of money, but because it’s good business.

The most successful horror films of 2009 so far, which include My Bloody Valentine, the Friday the 13th remake (proving franchises can just start over after running out of ideas), Drag Me To Hell, and The Final Destination all feature no-name casts and budgets that didn’t exceed $40 million. Faithful fans of the Friday the 13th and Final Destination franchises were lured back to theaters, while others may have been enticed by the recent return of 3-D.

A loyal fan base and 3-D vision still doesn’t explain why so many fans pour into theaters in hopes of experiencing a few frights for two hours. Obviously, viewers like the idea of being scared without actually being in danger. Also, today's fans have come to embrace crazed killers and beings in horror for the same reason American audiences embrace gangster movies—the antihero. Fans want to see the new traps Jigsaw has set for his victims, how inventive Freddy will be in killing a fresh batch of teenagers (shout out to the girl Freddy turned into a cockroach), and they want to see how Michael Myers will cheat death again (already shot, blown up, electrocuted, etc.) These killers were rejected by the world around them. Freddy was burned by neighbors, lifeguards let Jason Voorhees drown, Michael Myers was sent to a mental institution, and I guess Jigsaw felt underappreciated (I haven’t seen all of the 4th Saw movie yet). Horror film antiheroes, much like gangsters in gangster films, represent triumph through adversity and rebelling against the system that tried to restrain them.

Maybe I’m reaching too far, but I’ve got to tie this together some way. I’ve read other hypothesis which argued the exact opposite. Scholars have said that the characters I mentioned represent the oppressors of today, while the victims who try to fight them off represent the rebellion. Tell that to the students at Carrie’s senior prom.

Here’s a few of my must see horror movies:

Communism anyone?

So what if it rips off The Goonies

Better than the original

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"I Think We'll Be Okay Now"

Can you guess what the plot of Poltergeist, the creativeness behind The Blair Witch Project, and $15,000 equals? That’s right, Paranormal Activity. This low budget horror/thriller about a couple who videotape themselves day and night in hopes of finding evidence of “paranormal activity” isn’t the scariest movie out there, but I bet it’ll make many viewers shut their closet doors before going to sleep.

The story, set in 2006, cribs from prior ideas established in classic horror films. The only setting is in a house, much the same as Poltergeist, and only handheld shaky cameras are used to film, just like The Blair Witch Project. I remember hearing an audience member say they felt like throwing up within the first 5 minutes of the film. I didn’t think it was that bad.

The movie opens with the freakishly controlling, day-trading boyfriend, Miccah (Miccah Sloat), experimenting with new camera equipment he’s purchased in hopes of catching what goes bump in the night. He videotapes his English student girlfriend, Katie (Katie Featherston), as she pulls her white convertible into the driveway of their house in what looks to be a family-friendly San Diego neighborhood. After a few onscreen minutes of playful banter between the couple, the first night of videotaping is set.

There is something very uneasy about watching someone sleep in the dark. The audience watches the couple through the camera’s POV (fly on the wall) with the camera time elapsing on the bottom right of the screen. The combination of fearing that something might happen along with the aggravation of waiting for something to happen only heightens an audience's anxiety. I could see people squirming in their seats as we watched the couple sleep.

It’s not too long before the eerie occurrences do happen: doors moving, loud booms, and misplaced keys are just a few things that are caught on tape. After the disturbances worsen, Katie employs the help of a psychic. The psychic informs them that the presence within their home is a demon. Without giving too much away, the couple learns why they are being haunted; basic rules to follow, so that they don’t aggravate the demon; and what exorcist they should contact. This scene gave me the same frightening chill I had as a kid when watching the part in Gremlins when Billy’s dad explains the rules of caring for Gizmo. I know it’s Gremlins, but there are some scary parts in that movie for little kids. Anyway, much like Billy, the couple fails to follow the rules.

Miccah brushes off the psychic’s remarks, convinced that he (Miccah) can fix the problem with his camera equipment and his Googled research. Katie foolishly obeys Miccah or offers only nagging rants as if Miccah forgot to take out the trash. As their aggravation for their situation and each other heighten, so do the demon’s activities. Simple sounds and moving doors turn to more frightening occurrences as the demon's strength grows. Remember, it’s always important to follow rules if you want to survive a horror movie, much like Zombieland and this other horror/thriller:

Watching Paranormal Activity made me feel like I was waiting in a long line for a so-so rollercoaster ride. Most of the excitement came before the ride, or climax, because I was waiting for something better to happen. The movie inches closer to its climax and pulls the audience along by heightening the demon’s activities. For the audience, there’s anticipation and excitement in waiting for the big rush ahead. But, like a mediocre rollercoaster, the rush comes and goes so fast that the audience is left asking “Is that it?”

I’m not one of the many critics who's been caught up in the hype of Paranormal Activity. It did have some creepy moments, but flickering lights and eerie shadows get old after a while. Much like The Blair Witch Project, I probably won’t need to watch this movie a second time—and it won’t be because it’s too scary.

Rating: 6 out of 10